Editor’s note: Vermont By Degrees is a series of weekly columns written by representatives of colleges and universities from around the state about the challenges facing higher education at this time.
Over the past decade, colleges and universities, particularly small, liberal arts institutions, have faced a variety of new and rapidly evolving pressures on their traditional model. Every small college in the country has felt these pressures and been forced to adapt to remain sustainable into the future.
Unfortunately, the demographic and cost pressures colleges face aren’t projected to improve anytime in the near future. The good news is that we are aware of the projections and can plan accordingly to mitigate the effects of an aging and shrinking population in the Northeast and an increasingly competitive recruitment landscape. We know that to remain successful colleges must grow their enrollment and develop programs that meet the needs of their community.
At Castleton University, we explored how we will continue to grow and flourish under the most difficult business climate in recent memory. The answer is to tap into the experience, expertise and knowledge of our faculty, staff and local community to offer programs, credentials and educational delivery models that meet regional needs.
We have always shown the innovation and nimbleness that is required to succeed and grow. Adaptability is ingrained in our culture as we continue to meet the changing needs of the community, and our results speak for themselves. This fall, we enrolled the largest class in the 232-year history of Castleton University, despite the nationwide trend of declining enrollment.
We know that identifying and delivering niche programs, certificates and credentials that meet the needs of the local workforce and regional employers is key to this success.
In the past year alone, we have developed and launched 21 new academic programs, certificates and credentials, including Early Childhood and Special Education, Resort and Hospitality Management, Wildlife and Forest Conservation, and a Master of Business Administration.
Our innovative online MBA offers four tracks that reflect current needs in the workforce: Analytics, Healthcare Administration, Leading Organizational Change, and Media and Communication. This program can be completed in as little as one year, or over a greater period of time. Additionally, those who wish to further their career but aren’t seeking to enter a degree program can gain a micro-credential in any of the four subject areas. The program offers different academic tracks, flexibility in the time it takes to complete a degree, and asynchronous online course delivery to meet the needs of working professionals. The demand for this program surpassed our expectations, and we are planning an additional cohort for the spring semester.
We know that many of today’s students are looking for alternative delivery methods as they further their educations.
Flexible schedules are required for professionals who are juggling a career, family responsibilities, and college. Recently, we launched a fully online program for working registered nurses with an associate’s degree to complete their bachelor’s degree. We also offer an online master’s degree in Athletic Leadership.
We know partnerships with regional employers can play a key role in the education and career prospects of our students.
This fall, we opened new campuses in Killington and Bennington that utilize partnerships with Killington Resort and Southwestern Vermont Health Care to provide students with real-world experience and valuable networking in their industry.
At the new Killington campus, we deliver our bachelor’s degree in Resort and Hospitality Management in an innovative, cooperative education model. Students complete three years of rigorous academics and engaging work experiences at Killington Resort.
We are now delivering our Bachelor of Science in Nursing at our new campus in Bennington, in addition to our main campus. With this addition, Southwestern Vermont Health Care has designated Castleton University as its preferred partner for nursing education. SVHC anticipates a shortage of registered nurses with a bachelor’s degree to fill vacant positions well into the future, and has made a commitment to offer employment to Castleton students at the Bennington site who satisfactorily complete the program, obtain licensure, and meet pre-employment requirements. SVHC has also committed to student loan reimbursement for employees who graduate from the program through the Bennington campus.
We know many students are seeking accelerated options in an environment that requires adaptation to meet consumer demand.
In response, we developed a number of accelerated options for our bachelor’s degree programs. We now offer a three-year bachelor’s degree in business administration, Resort and Hospitality Management and Nursing, and our MBA can be completed in one year.
And, finally, we know students learn better when they get hands-on experience that complements their in-class learning, and employers appreciate applicants who offer both credentials and work experience.
All of our programs offer internship or field experience opportunities that students are encouraged to take advantage of, while some programs offer hundreds of hours of hands-on work experience, including student teaching, clinical experience, work cooperatives and practicums.
In Killington, students are completely immersed in the resort atmosphere as they live on the access road, and work and play in Killington throughout their education.
The challenges faced by small, liberal arts colleges are no secret. We have found that through shared governance and listening to the ideas generated by our faculty, staff and community, we can continue to grow and succeed through the toughest of times in higher education.
James Lambert is director of marketing and communications at Castleton University.